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SPECIAL: Catholics and Campaign 2004

y Keith A Fournier
© Third Millennium, LLC


Tomorrow the 2004 American Presidential campaign really begins with the first caucus in Iowa. I believe that this current campaign is one of the most important in my lifetime. I also believe that Catholic citizens, known to often be "swing voters", could not only decide this current Presidential election, but help lay the groundwork for a new movement for authentic social and political change in America, one that moves us beyond the tired old labels and toward a more just society, a movement that serves the common good.

I write this article as a longtime political and policy "wonk", convinced that we who are Catholic Christians MUST fully and faithfully participate in the political process. I also write as one who knows the "lay of the land." During the last election cycle I lived in Northern Virginia and worked for a while as a pro-life and pro-family lobbyist. I then became a political and policy "consultant" and an advisor to the Presidential campaign of then Republican candidate, Steve Forbes. As a consultant I was not employed by the campaign but worked through another group. The last Presidential campaign brought me to Iowa. I know its strategic importance.

Steve Forbes is a man I admire deeply. I first met him when I was engaged in pro-life lobbying to end partial birth abortion. I gave him a copy of "The Gospel of Life", the seminal Encyclical letter by Pope John Paul II on life. During the course of our friendship (and throughout my later work for his campaign), I exposed him to a lot of the thinking of this extraordinary Pope. Steve is sincerely and deeply pro-life. It was an honor to stand with and for him. I will cherish the memory and experience for the rest of my life. Interestingly, this morning, when I read one more article about the brilliant use of the internet by the campaign of Howard Dean, I fondly remembered "Forbes 2000." If one were to check the articles from 1999 and 2000, it was Steve Forbes who actually pioneered this approach to campaigning.

I write these reflections as a "private citizen". Yes, I am a member of the Catholic clergy, a Deacon. However, I am leaving my clerical designation off of this article by design. Though I never purport to speak for the "official" hierarchy, deacons are members of that hierarchy, though at the lowest rank of Holy Orders. I want to make it particularly clear that I am writing this article as a private citizen, a Catholic, who, like many of my readers, is seeking to be what our American Bishops have called a "faithful citizen." I am trying to abide by what I have preached, proclaimed and written about for decades. I am trying to inform my political participation by the principles derived from Catholic social teaching.

Finally, I write with only charity in my heart toward my fellow Catholics who are involved in this process and following their sincere desires to be faithful to the teaching of our Church. This last introductory assertion is of particular importance to me because some of my articles in the past have "ruffled some feathers" in certain Catholic circles, especially among those who by their own profession (or through their palate of positions) could be called "neo-conservatives." These are good folks who are good Catholics. If I disagree with their positions (which I sometimes do) that should not be interpreted as a personal attack. Rather, it is just an honest effort to inspire reflection and informed action among fellow Catholics, other Christians, other people of faith and people of good will.

Can We Talk?

I believe it was Joan Rivers, the quintessential Hollywood Gab-ette" who use to ask "Can we talk". Well, we Catholics in America need a good "talk."

We have not had much of an influence on our beloved Nation. For example, on the pre-eminent human rights issue of our age, the inviolable dignity of every human person and their right to life from conception to natural death, we still live in a Nation where every abortion at any time is not only "legal" but has been labeled a "right" by a Judicial branch run amok and a "choice" by a culture drunk on a counterfeit notion of "freedom" as a right to do whatever one wants and a raw power over others who are weaker than you.

Part of the blame for this lays at the feet of some Catholic citizens who have failed to recognize the full implications of the truth about life on their political participation. Some Catholics have been deluded by the siren song of the "I disagree with the killing of children but I won't "force" that on others" heresy. Some think the pro-life position is "religious" and therefore must be kept "private" based on a current fallacious interpretation of the role of values informed by faith in our life together. They do not see that religious faith is a "good" and that the values informed by it serve the common good of all men and women, even those who have no faith. However, the truth about the inviolable dignity of every human person and every human life is not simply a "religious" position. It is the truth, confirmed by science, human experience and the natural law.

This error is just the tip of the iceberg.

Many Catholics have not even read the social teaching of the Church much less thought it had a whole lot to do with "our politics" (or "our economics"), or that it promotes the formation of healthy human culture or serves the common good. Some fail to understand that the family is the first society and the foundation of all civil society and that its defense is our obligation in justice. Others fail to understand that our obligations to the poor and the needy are not just because of our "religious duty" but are the obligations of human solidarity. Others have not formed their personal consciences by their faith, let alone sought to inform their politics by what the Church teaches on the human person, the common good, the family, the preferential love of the poor, social justice, war and peace, authentic human freedom. Yet, all any Catholic (or any Christian) has to do is read the index of the Catechism under "common good" and "social justice" to see how prominent these issues are meant to be in our lives.

I am not trying to depress my readers, just to be honest. Thank the Lord, this is changing. Movements like "Your Catholic Voice", geared toward the double mission of helping people to "cultivate their faith" and then to "activate their voice", are a step in the right direction. Catholics are waking up, at a critical time. I am well aware that some Catholics in public life are harming this effort through their own behavior and unfaithful public positions. I know that some of my readers tend to blame this on the Bishops. I thank God that recently, courageous Bishops like Bishop Burke and Bishop Hughes, have taken a vital stand as Shepherds in dealing with the scandal of Catholics in public life failing to follow the binding teaching of our Church and thereby leading the faithful astray and causing public scandal. Some Catholics in office actually do more damage to our efforts then many who are not Catholic! But it is really not to the Bishops that the task of political and social participation is given. It is to the lay faithful!

The bottom line is that the Biblical adage is true: "to those, to whom much is given, much more will be required". Meaning no disrespect to other Christians, I insist that Catholic Christians have been given the most and will be held the most accountable. We have a treasury, the social teaching of the Catholic Church. We will be judged based upon how well we not only understood it but sought to inform all of our participation, including our political participation, by it. It is given not just for Catholics, other Christians, or other people of faith. Rather it is given for the world just as Jesus Christ was given for the world. It is given for the common good.

The Challenges we Face in 2004

Just the other day I received an E-Mail from someone who sincerely requested my thoughts on a web site for a Democratic candidate seeking to woo Catholics to vote for him. I read the site and got sick to my stomach. This candidates positions concerning on children in the first home was horrid! My sincere inquirer insisted in our correspondence that we can't "make abortion the only issue". Well, I am not doing so when I wholeheartedly reject the candidacy of this man. Even if I agree with him on his public opposition to the current administrations notion of a "pre-emptive war" (which I do), his position on the pre-emptive war on the womb betrays his sincerity. How a candidate views the dignity of life from the womb to the tomb is not a "single issue", it is a barometer.

Through our current abortion policy and laws we are, as a Nation, endorsing the preemptive invasion of the first home of millions, an entire class of persons with no voice, children in the womb. We are engaging in this war effort with lethal weapons, including chemical weapons, and we are calling it a "choice" and a "right." To the Catholic mind, this right to life is a lens through which we MUST view every other issue. There is a hierarchy of values. Our conviction concerning the dignity of every life is not simply "religious", it is true. The right to life from conception to natural death, at every age and stage, is a human rights issue - the first human rights issue.

Another one of the current candidates offered to the American public by the National leadership of the Democratic Party (the field will most assuredly dwindle on Tuesday after the first caucus) once ranked among my favorite politicians. He broke the mold with his positions! He was refreshingly pro-life and pro-poor! He coined the phrase "the com-modification of life" when he boldly opposed the creation of human embryonic life for experimentation and stood against all cloning. Sadly, he sold out when he became a Presidential candidate and joined the rest of the current crop of Democrats who fail to hear the cry of the poorest of the poor in the first home of the whole human race, the womb. How I hope that once great party who once championed all the poor will again find its soul.

Please understand, I believe it is not only the Democrats that we must seek to influence and whom we must measure by the standards of truth. We must critically and carefully evaluate every candidate. When I worked with the Forbes campaign, I was regularly asked for insights rooted in Catholic thought. I helped to frame that candidates "new birth of freedom" themes, working with one of his speechwriters. I also helped with his book "A New Birth of Freedom". The "freedom" language we used to craft the positions of the campaign were based not only upon Abraham Lincoln, (for whom I shared the candidates deep admiration), but upon the truth about life and authentic human freedom. I encouraged the candidate to consider using the phrase "freedom to be born" and to call it the "first freedom" and to call the "right to life" the "first right." He did... and he believed it.

I also use to speak with that same candidate about economic issues. He is a fiscal "conservative." I suggested that the "market" would never be truly "free" until it embraced the truth that "the market was made for man (and woman) and not man for the market." I would advise and ask him to consider that only human persons can be free and that the first goal of "free enterprise" needed to be truly free people and the family. I would argue that we needed to expand "participation and ownership" in this economy and we must always hear the cry of the poor! Each of these positions was based upon my understanding of Catholic Social teaching which I sought to apply to my position and to my work as an advisor to his campaign. He did not become the Republican nominee.

I share these examples to demonstrate my deeply held opinion that the positions we should take - and the positions must offer in our political participation as Catholic citizens - are neither "right" nor "left", "liberal" nor "conservative". However, they are true. If they are true, they must be first in our hearts, our minds and inform our political participation and action. This 2004 campaign can become our moment as Catholic citizens - if we wake up! Many Catholics are among the most important segment of the current electorate, the so-called "swing voters." However, we must "swing" from a stable foundation. That foundation must be the Social teaching of our Church. The Democratic candidate I referred to above is planning his "strategy" to capture Catholic voters. We must not be used by either political party!

I have raised five children and am now a grandfather! I have installed many swing sets in back yards. I learned early on how critical it is to place the four posts of a swing set deeply in the ground and to root them in cement. How much more we should root our political participation in the treasury of Catholic Social teaching. I believe that this teaching can be grouped in what I have called "four pillars of participation"; life, family, freedom and solidarity with the poor and needy. These must be the true "platform" of our political participation. We can belong to any party (or to no party) but we cannot compromise truth.

An increasing number Catholics in America are, like me, "former" Democrats, feeling sadness for the designation. I am a self proclaimed "Reluctant Republican". I did not leave the Democratic Party. It left me. It did so back when it silenced one of my heroes, the former Governor of Pennsylvania, Bob Casey, a champion of life and of the poor. Since then, I believe that, at the national leadership level, the Democratic Party has been controlled by those who fail to hear the cries of millions in the first home of the whole human race. I could not continue on in that party. I truly admire many who are still Democrats and I applaud the work of groups like "Democrats for Life."

I am personally pleased that the President of the activist arm of the "Your Catholic Voice" movement is the Honorable Ray Flynn, a self described "pro-life, pro-family, pro-poor Democrat." I will let you in on a little secret. I wanted the Ambassador to run as a Democrat this time around. I still think it could have made political history! Maybe I would have re-joined the party! It did not happen. However, I have this crazy idea that if that once great Party fails miserably this time around, we could wrest it back from the current lunatics who have taken it over!

I am also disenchanted with the political party I currently "belong" to, the Republican Party. I am not a "paleo-con", a "neo-con" or any kind of "con". I am a Catholic. I try to inform my political participation by my faith and operate according to a right hierarchy of values. Based upon that I am fairly sure how I will vote for President this time around-short of some shock or surprise. However, that is not the end but only the beginning of the issue. I am deeply concerned that, with all the rhetoric, we have not made much progress concerning protecting innocent life in the womb under the current administration. The alternative would have been worse. At least this President understands that life is more than an issue. However, we need action to demonstrate his rhetoric.

Let me address just two areas of concern.


I was deeply disappointed when early on in his Presidency, the Bush administration compromised on the contemporary new Frankenstein approach to "producing" human life for experimentation. Extracting stem cells from a human embryo always kills the human embryo. Because of that, human embryonic stem cell research must always be rejected. It is always immoral. It is also bad science. None of the inflated "scientific" claims of its proponents have proven to be true. In fact, adult stem cell research, fetal chord blood research and other truly good science has shown much more promise and deserves governmental assistance.

The President should have exercised his office to stop all of this mad science. Instead, he allowed "a line" of "stem cells." His compromise reminded me of that funny movie "Young Frankenstein." Remember when the young Dr Frankenstein, seeking to present a "new face" on the mad experiments, kept trying to get people to pronounce his name "Frank-en-Shteen." He failed. So did this President. Only this failure was not funny- it was tragic. If he believes what he says about life (and I believe that he does) he should have been consistent. If he gets another four years, hopefully he will deliver on his pro-life language.

Then there is the issue of Capital Punishment. There is not a lick of difference between either the Democrats or Republicans anymore on this issue.

I know that many of my Catholic colleagues would rather I leave this one out of my articles, I won't. I oppose it. Always have an always will. My personal opposition flows from my convictions about being "whole life/pro-life." However, that is not what matters. The Catholic Church also clearly opposes it and calls upon the faithful to work to end it. That is absolutely clear in the revisions to the Catechism and all of the encyclical letters of this pontificate that speak to the issue. I also insist that, unlike abortion, we should not say that this kind of killing is "intrinsically" evil. Abortion is intrinsically evil. It is always and everywhere wrong to take innocent human life. Assuming we are talking about a convicted Capital offender, they are not innocent. However, even that assumption, in the age of D.N.A. has become increasingly suspect. Additionally, the statistics concerning the application of the death penalty are worrisome. Does who we execute reveal a dirty little secret? They seem to point to something we do not like to address, institutionalized racism and an animus toward all the poor (called "structures of sin" in our Catechism) in the application of this deadly punishment.

Finally, even in the past, when the Church seemed to "sanction" (although both opposition and support can be found in our history as a Church) the right of the State to execute offenders as being within its authority to protect the common good and the innocent, it did so based upon a "self defense" analysis. In other words, the State was protecting the public against the offender. There is no doubt that, at least in America and the West, bloodless means are now available. Therefore, the Church is right in counseling that mercy should trump justice and that Capital punishment should end.

War and Peace

Then, there is the other controversial issue, the so called "Bush doctrine" of pre-emptive war. As a Catholic, I simply cannot and do not understand how one can read the teaching of the Church, the tradition and the teaching and public statements of this Pope and support such a policy. I read a Zenit News report recently where the U.S. Ambassador to the Vatican, Ambassador Jim Nicholson, admitted that on the issue of Iraq, the Holy See and the United States arrived at what he called "different conclusions" However, he then sought to downplay the difference in a way that was inappropriate. I respect the Ambassador, but I must disagree with his analysis. The theory of a "just war" was given by the Church and it is best interpreted by that Church.

Yes, it is true that, in a sense, all of this is now a moot issue. We are in Iraq and our troops and our President need our support. We should pull together and together deal with resolving the current crisis in a manner that protects both our soldiers and innocent Iraqis. However, that is different matter than discussing the legitimacy of the policy itself. After all, Saddam Hussein was not the only brutal dictator in the world!

An excerpt from that interview is telling: "President Bush was totally conversant in the doctrine of the just war of the Church," said the ambassador. "We discussed it chapter and verse in the meeting with Cardinal Laghi." Cardinal Pio Laghi had traveled to Washington, D.C., for talks with Bush before the outbreak of the war last year. Nicholson continued: "He [Bush] also knew that the doctrine says that the ultimate decision be made by the appropriate civil authorities. In our country, that was him. He knew that it rested on his conscience and took that very seriously. He thought about it, prayed about and made the decision he did, which the Pope did not agree with....They are two good moral men seeing the situation differently," he said of Bush and the Pope. "But the Pope never said it would be immoral for us to go into Iraq and he never said that war is immoral," said the Ambassador."

I am sorry Mr. Ambassador, but you are incorrect. For over two decades Pope John Paul has championed a vision for peace and human rights decidedly different than this administrations effort to squeeze the notion of "pre-emptive war" into some new kind of "Just war analysis." I know my opinion runs contrary to the claims of some neo-conservatives Catholics who advise this President. However, the Pope personally sent Cardinal Pio Laghi to dissuade the President from any unilateral action before it began.

The, after the war began, he gave an address at the Vatican to members of an Italian religious television channel, "Tele-space" in which he said: "When war, as in these days in Iraq, threatens the fate of humanity, it is ever more urgent to proclaim, with a strong and decisive voice, that only peace is the road to follow to construct a more just and united society... .Violence and arms can never resolve the problems of man."

The Holy See has consistently, clearly and unequivocally opposed the notion of "pre-emptive" strikes and rejects any notion of a "pre-emptive" war as a new reading of the "just war" theory. This is in spite of what some Neo-conservative Catholics who support the current administration in this effort have written and said in public. Before the war began, reportedly under the auspices of the same U.S. Ambassador to the Vatican, President Bush sent Neo-conservative Michael Novak to Rome to try to justify the war to the Pope and Vatican officials. Catholic News Service reported that the two-hour symposium was attended by some 150 invited guests, including lower-level Vatican officials, professors from church universities in Rome and diplomats accredited to the Vatican.

Apparently, since the Holy See had rejected the argument for a preventive war, Michael Novak took the approach that a war on Iraq could be viewed as a continuation of a "just war," arguing that the original Gulf War was both a moral obligation and a matter of self-defense. It is reported that he also argued that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. I have real admiration for Michael Novak and have had for many years. He is a brilliant man and seems to be a gentle soul. However, I believe that he was not only swimming upstream but did the reverse of what we should do as Catholic citizens who seek to first listen to the teachings of our Church.

Not only has Pope John Paul II been clear on this matter but Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, the Prefect of the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, stated that "...the concept of a 'preventive war' does not appear in the Catechism of the Catholic Church" It is reported that a new shorter, simpler version of the Catechism of the Catholic Church is in preparation that will probably include revisions to clarify the section on just war, as the official version has done against capital punishment in a civilized society. Cardinal Ratzinger heads the Commission writing the new catechism. In an interview with Zenit on May 2, 2003, he restated the position of the Holy Father on the Iraq war (II) and on the question of the possibility of a just war in these words: "There were not sufficient reasons to unleash a war against Iraq. To say nothing of the fact that, given the new weapons that make possible destructions that go beyond the combatant groups, today we should be asking ourselves if it is still licit to admit the very existence of a 'just war.'"

Catholic Must Be the Noun

As I conclude, let me address the heart of the matter. I have referred to this dynamic in other articles I have written. My experience in political action and policy work has all too often been with folks who act as though "Catholic" is an adjective. In other words, they are "Catholic" conservatives. Or they are "Catholic"------, fill in the blank.

First, you simply cannot "fit" faithful Catholics in the prevailing categories of "left" or "right", "liberal" or "conservative." Nor should either major party ever have a "lock" on our support. However, there are some contemporary issues where it is crystal clear.

On the predominant human and civil rights issue of our age -- the inherent dignity of every human life - no matter what the age or stage of that life, from conception to natural death and all in between -- the current ruling class of the party calling itself "Democrat" has left behind those of us who understand the infallible teaching of our church on life, (which is the same the truth revealed by the natural law), in the dust. One simply cannot be both a faithful Catholic and what is euphemistically now called "pro-choice"-period.

I, like many of my fellow Catholic Americans, grew up equating being Catholic with being a Democrat because -- at least so I thought --Democrats cared more about the poor, the working class, the marginalized and those with no voice. The current ruling elite of the Democratic party has proven just how wrong that stereotype probably always was...but now definitely is. The current Democrat party has come to embrace a notion of "freedom" as a power over others and "choice" as a right to do whatever one wants.

The absolute failure to hear the cry of the child in the womb is simply one more example of the unbridled hypocrisy of the current leadership of the party that claims to care more about the poor. Medical science has confirmed what our conscience has always known, that child in the womb is one of us.

His or her voice cannot be heard because it is muffled in the once hallowed home of the womb and disregarded by political opportunists. Once the first safe home of every human person, too many wombs have now become hostile environments that can be invaded, at any time and for any reason, and reduced to chambers of horror for thousands of smaller persons, children, who have an inalienable right to be born.

However, that other party called "Republican" has all too often earned the stereotype of its opponents that it cares about children only when they are in the womb and that once outside, when it proposes a public policy of "every person for themselves." This could become the case if a "survival of the fittest" approach to the market economy becomes the most important priority of the leadership of the Republican Party and its leadership.

The Republican talk of a "compassionate" conservatism must be confirmed with a reaffirmation of our obligations in human solidarity- we simply are our brother's keeper- and a public policy that acknowledges our special responsibility for the poor in our midst. Though "big government" solutions have arguably not worked all that well in the delivery of charity, they must now be replaced with a new approach to empowering the mediating associations to deliver that charity and not with a "libertarianism" that cares little about our social obligation.

Also, the dynamism of the market economy must be infused with the values that make us truly free. We must build a moral market economy and affirm the truth that markets were made for man (and woman) and not man for the market. That will best be done through expanding participation in the market economy to all who yearn to be truly free.

Informed, faithful and engaged Catholic citizens are beginning to see the connection between the "social teaching" of their Church (which is true for all persons and not just those "who believe") and their politics. They are gathering around what I call four pillars of political and social participation; the dignity of life, the primacy of family, authentic human freedom and solidarity with the poor.

They are not first Democrats or Republicans, conservatives or liberals. They are Catholics. Catholic is the Noun. Our mission is not to re-make Catholic teaching but re-form our conscience and then to re-build our society.

The Mission of "Your Catholic Voice" movement is to motivate, educate and activate Catholic citizens for political and social participation as a response to their baptismal vocation and the call of our Church to be faithful citizens. It engages that mission by education and action, encouraging all who participate to both "Cultivate your faith" and "Activate your voice." Both are absolutely essential.

Now is the time for all faithful Catholics, other Christians and all people of faith and good will to double our prayer and roll up our sleeves. Now is the time for Catholic action. The social teaching of the Catholic Church provides the raw material out of which a new public philosophy can and must be constructed. It is filled with the truth about the human person and how we are to live together. It is not simply for "the religious"--rather, the Church walks the way of the person and speaks truth for all who will listen.

This public philosophy must be built around the major themes so beautifully articulated in the recent documents of the American Bishops addressing "Faithful Citizenship." Those themes are neither "liberal" nor "conservative," but truly human and rooted in truly human values. They should inform a new politics as well.

There will be a lot of talk as the presidential election of 2004 begins about a "Catholic vote." The truth is--there is none. Perhaps there never truly was, at least in the sense of a fully informed and activated Catholic voice. However, gone as well is the past demographic, rooted mostly in the large cities with their ethnic neighborhoods, of a predictable blue-collar "Democrat" Catholic vote. Those days are over.

There is no real "Republican" Catholic vote either--in the sense of a Catholic rush to the G.O.P., no matter what some of our neo-conservative Catholic friends may tell the current administration. Even though Catholics are socially "conservative," they do not consider themselves to be a part of either a conservative or a "neo-conservative" movement. That is at least once you get outside of I-395 or I-495 (the "beltway"). Don't get me wrong; it is possible that there could be a "new" Catholic voting pattern built--and that is why I have helped to found "Your Catholic Voice" and founded "Common Good"

The campaign of 2004 is a real opportunity for Catholics. We must rise to the occasion. With the Iowa Caucus, the campaign for the Presidency has begun. Let's not only help to elect the best candidate, one who supports the dignity of all life, defends the family, protects religious freedom and hears the cry of the poor; let's also build a new political movement that truly understands the social teaching of our Church and serves the common good.

Let's effect lasting change, in 2004 and beyond.


Keith A Fournier is a human rights and constitutional lawyer who has appeared as co-counsel in major U.S. Supreme Court cases. He is a graduate of the Franciscan University of Steubenville, the University of Pittsburgh's School of Law, and the Pope John Paul II Institute of the Lateran University. He is a policy consultant, an author, a husband and a father. He is a co-founder of the "Your Catholic Voice" movement and the founder of "Common Good."


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